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South Africa’s Sauvignon Blanc Impresses with Quality, Versatility

07 September 2021

  • This year's judging panel of the Sauvignon Blanc SA Top 10 competition at a grape press dating from 1714 on Uitkyk: Back from left are Charles Hopkins, cellar master of De Grendel, protégé Kelsey Shungking from Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines, Rüdger van Wyk, winemaker of Stark-Condé Wines, and wine judge and author Fiona McDonald. In front from left are protégé Victoria Davis from Boekenhoutskloof, Dr Winifred Bowman, Cape Wine Master and convener of the panel, and Johann Fourie, chief winemaker of Benguela Cove.

World class, interesting and full of expression of the specific terroir are some of the features that the judges of South African Sauvignon Blanc are excited about. The judges of the 2021 edition of the Sauvignon Blanc SA Top 10 competition were immensely impressed with the quality, excellent winemaking techniques and complexity across various vintages and styles.

A total of 157 wines from 96 producers were tasted by a select panel of judges from Tuesday 31 August to Thursday 2 September at Uitkyk Estate in Stellenbosch. This year's competition is presented with the support of FNB and EVER Solutions.

The judging panel consisted of Dr Winifred Bowman, Cape Wine Master and panel convener, Charles Hopkins, cellar master at De Grendel, wine judge and author Fiona McDonald, Rüdger van Wyk, winemaker at Stark-Condé Wines, Johann Fourie, chief winemaker at Benguela Cove, as well as two protégé judges, Kelsey Shungking of Mullineux and Leeu and Victoria Davis of Boekenhoutskloof.

“Sauvignon Blanc is an important wine category in South Africa,” says Dr Winifred Bowman. “A total of 4.4 million boxes (of 6 bottles) are consumed annually on local soil. We were highly impressed with the quality of the wines, and especially the fact that there were very few faulty wines throughout.”

The biggest category during this year's judging was of the 2021 vintage with unwooded wines. “The 2021 vintage performed particularly well,” says Johann Fourie. "There were very few faulty wines due to better fermentation management by winemakers, as well as all the research that the suppliers of wine chemicals, yeasts and nutrients undertake to deliver the best product to the winemaker.”

This year's wines produced a variety of Sauvignon Blanc flavours that particularly impressed Rüdger van Wyk. “These differences in expression make Sauvignon Blanc a very interesting grape variety to work with.”

Acids were also well-integrated, according to Fiona McDonald. “The wines this year showed a lovely freshness with well-resolved acidity. What we are now seeing is delicate and charming wines that offer more than just lemon or citrus flavours. They are nuanced with subtle notes of tropical fruits or blackcurrant/elderflower.”

As for the wooded classes, the judges agreed that there was good management of wood. “The older wooded wines showed better because they were held back for a year or so before entering competitions to make the wine perform at its best,” says Charles Hopkins. “South Africa makes world class wooded Sauvignon Blanc and it is something we can rightly be proud of,” adds Bowman.

This year, custom technology has once again been used on tablets to make the process Covid-19 friendly, faster and more accurate. Scores were fully captured while wine profiles and more useful cultivar information were collected in collaboration with the Department of Viticulture and Oenology of Stellenbosch University. The panel of judges also agreed that this technology is definitely safer, more eco-friendly and accurate, and paves the way for judging into the future.

2021 is the first year that the protégés were fully part of the judging of the competition and the daily discussions, as well as the final tasting of the winning wines were extremely valuable for knowledge transfer and the personal growth of the future wine judges of this country.

"It was an incredible learning curve and experience to be part of the judging process as a young winemaker," says protégé Kelsey Shunking. "This opportunity helps me to understand the industry standards in terms of quality, as well as gain more knowledge of the styles we make in South Africa."

The Sauvignon Blanc SA Top 10 competition – which has been presented since 2007 – will announce the Top 20 finalists later this month. The Top 10 will be announced during an awards ceremony on Wednesday 13 October 2021. A technical seminar that conveys information about the Top 10 will be held on Wednesday 17 November 2021 in Franschhoek.

Sauvignon Blanc SA promotes South African Sauvignon Blanc's quality locally and internationally. Anyone can become a member of Sauvignon Blanc SA, to enjoy the benefits of shared expertise. For more information, or to subscribe to the Sauvignon Blanc SA newsletter, visit or call 021 975 4440. Join social media discussions on the #SauvignonBlancSATop10 and follow Sauvignon Blanc SA on Twitter as @SauvignonSA and on Facebook and Instagram as @sauvignonblancsa.